Critics call CQ Press’s City Crime Rankings meaningless, says Wall Street Journal columnist Carl Bialik. Cities differ markedly in how tightly their borders are drawn around their inner core, and how much of outlying areas are included within city limits can have a big effect on crime levels. The rankings are based only on reported crime, and reporting rates vary. Personal safety varies tremendously depending on lifestyle, income, and neighborhood.
“Knowing the city someone lives in tells you next to nothing about their risk for crime,” says Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. produces some quirks. In CQ Press’ ranking method, a city with below-average levels in five of the categories used but a very high level of, say, car theft could score poorly. Also, if crime is down nationally, a city whose crime rate falls more slowly could see its crime ranking rise. There is very little difference near the middle of the rankings, meaning differences of 20 or 30 ranking positions might not be statistically significant.